By Stephen Wilds | Contributor Published: 12/11/2013 11:00 am EST
The gaming gods giveth and they taketh away, but most of the time they reduce things down to mediocrity. That statement may sound a little harsh, but Batman: Arkham Origins had a huge challenge in front of it, following up what is thought to be the best superhero game of the modern era, and the sequel that proved even greatness could be expanded upon. Not only was the pressure on, but the responsibilities were placed in the hands of a new team, Warner Bros. Montreal, with the understanding that there was no way around having their work compared to the legacy that Rocksteady Studios created. My job was to see what they did right, and what went wrong.
“I am the reason criminals breathe easier when the sun rises.” One thing that Warner Bros. Montreal has to be credited with is that they got the attitude for the game down perfect. Batman is younger in this story. He makes mistakes, and is nowhere near as nice. The Dark Knight’s brutality is more evident, even if he is holding fast to his one rule already, but that is what makes the comparisons between Batman and the Joker so fun, is that he is a criminal himself in a lot of ways. The parts with just Batman and Joker interacting are some of the best, most tense moments, of the game. These back-and-forth sparring sessions help build the real meat for the story, and those parts along with some other story elements actually enhance the previous events of the other two Arkham games, rather than make a mockery of them.
I was concerned when I heard that the writer of the first two games, the amazing Paul Dini, would not be brought back on to pen the third installment. There was not much wrong with the story itself, and though some of the dialogue was questionable, the characters felt true to their counterparts in the other games, and some parts are genuinely brilliant. Exploring the characters in the prequel setting was risky, but paid off in the end. There were several enjoyable references to the rest of the Batman storylines as well as the DC Universe as a whole. Even the side quests feel important, in some cases more so than the main mission, which was a welcomed change in a way, getting to see several characters that the previous two Arkham games had yet to touch on, even if they were reaching outside of the normal set of villains. I am a huge Black Mask fan.
The visual presentation is just as good as the last game, but I am less fond of the layout chosen for Gotham this time around. Players will get tired of crossing the main bridge over and over again, driven to use the fast travel mechanic. The large amount of snow doesn’t take away from the detail of the scenery, and in some cases makes the city look more exotic. The character models are wonderful and the action sequences represent what is so visually fun about the series. Cut scenes area amazing and although there are two new voice actors in the main roles, adjusting to them was not hard at all due to the stellar effort put into bringing the characters to life so eloquently. Certain scenes are near poetic.
The sections concerning Joker’s origin, where the player actually plays as him, was stunningly potent, especially for players who are familiar with the Batman universe already. Those portions were a real treat, as was the Mad Hatter encounter, which felt similar to the Scarecrow fights from the first game. Boss fights have a solid flow to their encounters in Origins, with only the Bane fights causing some amount of annoyance. On the other hand, Deathstroke, Copperhead, and Firefly stand out as memorable battles with different mechanics to keep things interesting and approach on quick time event style encounters, without a lack of control.
Combat has not changed much, but the addition of new enemy types helps, until Batman gets the shock gauntlets, which makes combat shorter, but less fun. Random enemy encounters can become tedious, and I think my hand is still cramping from finishing up the side quests. Batman starts off with most of his gear in the beginning, seemingly cutting out some of the posturing of acquiring the items, since players have seen it twice before, but the items had nothing new or original at all. Overall, the game mechanics suffered from a lack of innovation, and though Arkham Origins does a lot well, Warner Bros. Montreal did nothing to make this part of the series their own.
Batman: Arkham Origins is full of glitches, graphical drop-offs, framerate issues, and a few other bugs involving the combat system. Some of this has been patched, but much of it was still noticeable without even trying to find them. All of these problems bundled together make the game appear rushed. The same can be said for the multiplayer portion, which had several good ideas, but needed a lot more time. Those things considered, Origins is truly good, but has less replay value and staying power than its predecessors. I will play the next Arkham game, without question, but pray that it brings something new to the table.